Freshmen trusted to grasp the point

College Park — College Park -- The requests began with a paper cutout of a turtle, then progressed to a basketball, a cast, and even the back of one young fan's red sweat shirt - while he was wearing it.

Maryland freshman guards Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes haven't played one minute in a college basketball game, but after the Terps' first open scrimmage, wide-eyed and waist-high fans approached them for autographs. Their veteran teammates watched from their seats on the scorer's table, their lanky legs dangling over the edge.


They, too, are seeking something from the unproven freshmen.

The scene that unfolded recently at Comcast Center captured the transition of Maryland men's basketball, because much of what this team accomplishes will hinge upon the success - or failure - of its two freshman guards.


Vasquez and Hayes, both ranked among the top 70 players in the high school class of 2006 by, have infused talent, energy and hope into a program that has become stagnant after back-to-back appearances in the National Invitation Tournament. Whether they are the answer to returning to the NCAA tournament, though, remains to be seen. If nothing else, the coaching staff insists that Vasquez and Hayes have the ability to contribute immediately where the team needs them most - at point guard.

"We didn't recruit these guys thinking they couldn't do it," assistant coach Michael Adams said. "We think we have those kind of players we're going to rely on."

The Terps lacked a true point guard last season, and it showed with a 0.97-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Though D.J. Strawberry gave running the offense his best shot, and became a better ballhandler because of it, his ill-timed turnovers and questionable decisions were an indication that he is best suited to his natural position, small forward.

"It was a great learning curve for D.J.," Adams said. "But to have somebody that can play the natural point guard position that's been doing it all their lives, that's going to help us. It's an upgrade, no doubt about it."

That's not to say that Strawberry won't run the offense at times, but the addition of Hayes and Vasquez - and the return of Parrish Brown - will relieve him of that pressure.

"Last year I was coming off an injury. ... I was just thrown in there and, go play," said Strawberry, who turned the ball over seven times in the Terps' embarrassing, season-ending loss to Manhattan. "I had no experience playing point guard. I had no idea of the tempo of the game, how to get people involved in the game. It was real hard.

"It's going to be tough for them at first. I felt like a freshman going out there and playing point guard, but me talking to them and talking them through it, I think we can get through it. They played point guard their whole life. They know the game; they know what to do. With their point guard experience and my experience in the ACC, I think we'll be fine."

Hayes is used to winning - his four-year record at Potomac High in Virginia was 100-9. He played point guard for his father, Kendall, and finished his career with 1,698 points. Vasquez left his home in Caracas, Venezuela, to attend Montrose Christian in Rockville, where he played two seasons for renowned coach Stu Vetter. He finished his senior year with averages of 5.9 assists, 7.4 rebounds and 12.8 points, and was ranked the No. 10 shooting guard in the class of 2006 by


Both said they are confident they have what it takes to earn significant playing time - and likely starting jobs - in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The last time Maryland depended so heavily on a freshman point guard was in the 1999-2000 season, when the Terps finished 25-10 with Steve Blake.

"I think that's a good thing not to lack confidence," said Hayes, who said he watched all of Blake's games, and bears an eerily similar resemblance. "Not being cocky, but we're definitely trying to get some energy in here. I think that's something we need to get back to the tournament.

"I think we've brought a lot of competition into different practices and pickup games. I think we're pushing the older guys as well as them pushing us."

Vasquez agreed.

"That's going to make our team better," he said. "D.J. now has to compete against me. I have to compete against Eric Hayes. That's when you get better."

There is still a learning curve, though.


"Greivis, the set is there, at the top of the circle," Maryland coach Gary Williams barked during the team's second open scrimmage. "Not three feet there, not three feet over there," he said, pointing at the court. "This is college."

Williams, a former point guard, said teaching the position is a "rushed course."

"They don't have the luxury of time some other positions do," he said. "We do a lot more teaching with those two guys. They both have ability. It's not like we're trying to get them better; you're trying to get them comfortable with what we're trying to do."

They're comfortable with each other - on and off the court. Vasquez and Hayes are roommates, but Hayes is reserved while Vasquez matches the intensity of his coach.

Their addition to the roster has given Williams the depth he needs to press more consistently, alleviate foul concerns and tinker with a lineup that centers on height, or even four quick guards. He also mentioned the possibility of using two point guards at the same time.

"There's a lot of ways to go," Williams said.


If he wants to use a big front line, he can go with Will Bowers, Ekene Ibekwe, James Gist, Strawberry and Vasquez.

The question is, who will start at point guard?

"I'm really looking forward to starting, but it's not going to be easy," Vasquez said. "I have Eric Hayes, D.J., Parrish Brown - good guys."

Point guard, though, clearly is his favorite position.

"I really love it," he said. "I can get rebounds and push the ball and run a lot of fast breaks. It's really going to help us because we have guys who can really run like Ekene and James Gist. I love running the point because I can make my teammates better and I can pass it to them."

There are still some things Hayes said he needs to perfect - one of them being his autograph.